Director Billy Wilder once said about Peter Bogdanovich: “It isn’t true that Hollywood is a bitter place divided by hatred, greed and jealousy. All it takes to bring everyone together is another flop by Peter Bogdanovich.”
In a life marked by headline-making love affairs, huge successes and massive failures, great wealth and a couple of bankruptcies, director, writer, and raconteur Bogdanovich – alternately lionized and reviled – lived a life at least as dramatic as the movies he made.
There was the adulterous affair with his 19 year-old leading lady Cybill Shepherd in his biggest hit, The Last Picture Show in 1971. Bogdanovich then dated the 20 year-old Playboy model Dorothy Stratten who was shot and killed by her husband. (He subsequently married her sister.)
In his last interview before he passed away on January 6, 2022, Bogdanovich reflected on his long career. At 82, he was still working on many projects, including a film on the Gershwin brothers and a book about his thoughts on every single film he had seen for decades, all collected on index cards.
What are your memories of The Last Picture Show?
Picture Show was very intense. We came to Texas as one person and we left as another person. It was a very, very complicated production. I was in love with Cybill and that blew up, there was a lot of stuff.
Why did you decide to shoot it in black and white?
I was talking with Orson Welles about it, and I asked how could I get that depth of field that he had in Citizen Kane. And he said, you’ll never get it in color. So I said, what should I do, and he said, shoot it in black and white. So, I went to the producer and he said, let me talk to my brother, who was the head of Columbia at that time. And they came back and said okay, go ahead. And then a couple of years later, after the picture had come out, I said, why did you let me shoot it in black and white so easily? And he said, I thought it would be a novelty. [Laughs.]
Paper Moon was another of your big successes.
Bob Evans [head of Paramount] had already sent me this “Addie Pray” book. Whenever I do a period picture, I always look to see what were the songs that were popular in that period. And one of them was a song called “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” [He sings a couple of lines.] That is my favorite tune and I said, that would be a great title, “Paper Moon.” So, the head of the studio says to me that is not a good title. “Addie Pray” is a good title. Oh shit. So I went back to the house and I called Orson, who was in Rome. He said, what do you want, I’m cutting. [I said,] Orson, just give me one minute, what do you think of this title “Paper Moon?” And there was a short pause and he said, that title is so good, you don’t even need to make the picture, just release the title!
How did you come to cast Tatum O’Neal?
Polly [first wife] said, I think Ryan [O’Neal] has a daughter who could play that, she has a good voice and a sort of mean face for a little girl. So I said to Ryan, don’t tell Tatum anything about the movie, but just go out to the beach house, and I will come out and see her. So, I got to the beach and I was introduced to her and Ryan said to me, you know you ought to come out on the beach and run in the sand. And Tatum says, the first thing she says was, ‘oh dad, he isn’t the type!’ What do you mean I am not the type? I had only met her ten minutes before. ‘Well, you probably always wear your shoes and you keep your shirt on, you are not that type.’ I turned around and said, she’ll do, and that’s how she got the part, meeting her at the beach.
Do you have any nostalgia for those days?
Well, to a degree. It was a completely different world, the studio system had just about died by then. Almost all the great people from the studio system, like John Ford or Howard Hawks, they were still around. So I got to know a lot of them, and Allan Dwan and Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. I got to know a lot of those people from the earliest period. It’s very sad to see it all go away. But I was in contact with the beginnings of American movie productions.
What do you think of Hollywood today?
I think we are not in a great period. I think there is a lot of technological phenomena, but I don’t think it’s an interesting period, artistically. There are some good actors still and good directors, but it’s not like the great age of movies, that will never come back, it was a different system. Now it’s gone and I can’t cry about it.
What’s your favorite film that you’ve directed?
They All Laughed (1981) with Ben Gazzara and Audrey Hepburn and Dorothy Stratten. We shot that in New York in my hometown. I was just crazy about Dorothy and I loved Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara was an old friend. It’s not necessarily my best, but it’s my favorite.
Have you thought about writing a memoir?
I don’t know, I might. I have a million things to do so I am not thinking about that. I wrote a book of interviews. It’s called “Five American Icons,” and they are very long interviews with Arthur Miller, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. I plan to bring that out sometime next year. And I do have a book that I am planning to do also, autobiographical, to publish diaries that I kept for a number of years. I kept a movie card file, and I made a card on every movie I saw from the time I was 13 until I was 30. There are about 5,000 cards. I am going to publish some of that stuff as well.